FROM THE PULPIT
This Sunday’s gospel contrasts a pious Pharisee and a sinful tax collector. As with the parable of the rich man and Lazaus, most of us would immediately identify with the sinful tax collector and his humble prayer. None of us would admit to being like the Pharisee. Yet, some of us really are like the Pharisee in that we put our pious acts above everything else and think this is how we are justified. For example, some people fill their houses with statues and shrines and say prayers constantly, but are anything but charitable and self-giving toward others. Others constantly judge the prayer practice of others, thinking they themselves have the right formula. Truth be told, probably most of us have something of both the Pharisee and tax collector in us. This gospel recounts in a dramatic parable the teaching of Sirach from the first reading: “the prayer of the lowly” is willingly and speedily heard by God. Unexpectedly, it is the sinful tax collector, and not the pious Pharisee, who goes home justified. Although the Pharisee is faithful to pious practices, he is missing the heart of prayer and the core of faith demonstrated by the tax collector: dependence upon God (“be merciful”) and humble acknowledgement of one’s true identity (“me a sinner”). Such self-abasement would seem to create a greater distance between the holy God and the sinful tax collector, but the opposite is true. The tax collector’s humility draws him closer to God and allows him to go home justified. For ourselves to go home justified, we need to imitate the practices of the Pharisee in being faithful to prayer and gospel living. But we must always pray and live in the humble spirit of the tax collector. This is how we are justified. The Pharisee uses his pious practices to separate himself from “the rest of humanity.” Authentic religious practices—for the Pharisee and for us today—ultimately leads us to communion with God and one another and being in right relationship. The Pharisee distances himself from the rest of humanity; the tax collector, in his acknowledgment that he is a sinner, identifies with humanity. The Pharisee focuses on himself; the tax collector focuses on God. The Pharisee is thankful for his own actions; the tax collector simply acknowledges how God acts (“be merciful”)
This morning as we look at two different characters in the Gospel, one of them being the pious one and thanks God that he is not like the one that has walked away from God’s grace and has sinned. The other character being the humble one that recognizes his sins. We are not to look at this gospel, and believe that there is something wrong of being pious. No it’s making piety important but to do it in a humble way and realize that we are sinners and need to come and ask forgiveness for all that we done that is against him. It’s very tempting as those who come here every week and are faithful to the church teaching to then turn around and see someone who we know is the public sinner and say to one self that we are fortunate that we are not in their shoes and also wonder how this person can be worthy of even being here present with us.
I heard a friar once recount an incident that made such an impact in his life. He was going to celebrate Mass at a parish that he wasn’t familiar with and he realized when he got there that he needed someone to do the readings at Mass and he asked this young woman, never realizing she was a “lady of the night.” Well, of course the parishioners were shocked and when the pastor heard of it, he informed the priest of this particular woman’s lifestyle but this woman who was labeled as an outcast when it came to her parish community was touched by this action of the friar and realized that even in her situation she could abandon the lifestyle and follow God.
My dear brothers and sisters we must not just first be humble in our actions and to always realize as Jesus asked the question in the Gospel of Matthew, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” To realize that we must always pray for ourselves, that we recognize our weaknesses so that the Lord can assist us and to be opened to the spirit of conversion but also to realize that we need to also especially pray for our brothers and sisters who have fallen away so that they too can be able to be healed of their weaknesses and be strengthened so that they too can cry out, “O God be merciful to me a sinner.”
I also will like to mention what is occurring throughout the US today in every parish and that is Priesthood Sunday 2007. Priesthood Sunday is a special day set aside to honor the priesthood in the United States. It is a day to reflect upon and affirm the role of the priesthood in the life of the Church as a central one. This morning I would like to focus on this special day not just to focus on what our priests do each and every day but to focus on this great gift of the Priesthood that Christ has given his Church. For the priest himself it should be a day to thank God for the wonderful vocation that he has given the priest. It’s also a great day to reflect on the reality of the priesthood here in the United States. Yes, we do have less priests than we did even 10 years ago and more work on our hands but it doesn’t have to be this way. As I was reading through the material on “Priesthood Sunday 2007” I came across a quote from a woman named Elizabeth Shrier and she said, “One afternoon, I was waiting for Mass to start at St. John’s and there was no priest. Some nuns were visiting from New York and they said they didn’t have a priest in all their parishes anymore, and that Eucharistic services were common I thought,“What would it be like if there were no priests?” And I asked myself, “What are you doing about it?”
That is the question that we need to ask my dear brothers and sisters is what are we going to do about it? The crisis we are facing about the priesthood here in the United States is not going away and some people will comment well if we started ordaining women or let priests become married than that will fix the problem. That is a whole different topic but we have to be realistic. What we need to do is ask young men if they have ever considered being a priest. Of course they will probably laugh and deny it but you might touch someone’s heart. I know in my own situation I was asked the question and that was one of the things that made me seriously consider if the priesthood was for me and I can stand before you today and say that I would never trade my priesthood for anything.
So my dear brothers and sisters as we celebrate “Priesthood Sunday 2007” let us give thanks to God for the wonderful priests he has put in our lives and also to pray for men who are considering a vocation to the priesthood that they be given the courage to say “yes” because as the bishop said at my ordination day “it can’t get better than that.”
 Living Liturgy, p. 234